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Roy Ballard column Feb. 27, 2013

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Roy Ballard column Feb. 27, 2013

March coming, but it’s not spring yet

While recent weather looks very little like spring, the days are indeed getting longer and gardeners are eagerly awaiting the increasing temperatures that surely must follow.

While we will have to wait and see what the weather will bring for 2013, we certainly well remember (all too well) the conditions during much of the 2012 growing season.

I think we really need to look at the coming season as one of damage control and rebuilding. We have likely not seen the full expression of the damage that will result from last summer’s dry and incredibly hot conditions. I think we can and should fully expect to see additional plant decline and loss despite some of our heroic efforts to nurture plants through the harsh growing conditions.

As the season unfolds we will need to be very vigilant for signs of delayed injury – cracking and peeling bark, canopy decline in trees, young and old alike, and even tree and shrub loss. Additionally such stressed plants may well be subject to secondary opportunistic invaders including a variety of eager insects and disease.

As there are appropriate treatments available for these conditions, it may be worth considering them to reduce subsequent stress that may put plants “over the top.” Trying to cure the problems with fertilizer, however, may not be the best use of resources.

There will still be some tough decisions ahead, about which plants may have a chance for regrowth and survival and which ones may have seen better days and should be considered for removal and/or replacement.

In the coming months we will offer a few workshops that will explore some of the impacts of the heat and drought of 2012 on turf and landscapes and what remedial treatments may be available.

If you are interested in being made aware of these programs when dates and times are known, please let me know by calling (317) 462-1113 or by e-mail at rballard@purdue.edu.

In the meantime, here are some activities that the home gardener might consider for the month of March, to get a head start on the home landscape and, in some cases, to reduce stress and foster growth in the growing season ahead:

YARD (Lawns, woody ornamentals and fruits)

 Prune trees and shrubs, except those that bloom early in spring, while plants are still dormant.

 Plant new trees and shrubs as soon as soil dries enough to be worked. Plant bare-root plants before they leaf out.

 Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins, but after soil temperatures have reached 40 F.

 Remove winter coverings from roses as soon as new growth begins. Prune and fertilize as needed.

 Apply superior oil spray to control scale insects and mites when tips of leaves start to protrude from buds.

GARDEN (Flowers, vegetables and small fruits)

 Plant cool-season vegetables and flowers as soon as the ground has dried enough to work. Do NOT work the soil while it is wet; wait until it crumbles in your hand. If the soil forms a solid ball when squeezed, it’s still too wet.

 Gradually harden off transplants by setting them outdoors during the daytime for about a week before planting.

 Follow last fall’s soil test recommendations for fertilizer and pH adjustment. It’s not too late to test soil if you missed last year.

 Start seeds of warm-season vegetables and flowers indoors but wait until the end of March or early April.

 Watch for blooms of early spring bulbs, such as daffodils, squill, crocus, dwarf iris and snowdrops.

 Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops, and sidedress the plants with nitrogen. Plant or transplant asparagus, rhubarb and small fruit plants.

 Remove winter mulch from strawberry beds as soon as new growth begins, but keep the mulch nearby to protect against frost and freezes.

 Remove weak, diseased or damaged canes from raspberry plants before new growth begins. Remove old fruiting canes if not removed last year, and shorten remaining canes if necessary.

 Prune grapevines.

Be sure to visit the Purdue Extension Master Gardener “Plant Info to Go” display at the Indiana Flower and Patio Show, March 9-17, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

The Hancock County Master Gardeners will be staffing the display on Sunday, March 10! We’ll be located in the Exposition Hall, across from the Homestead Garden.

We are planning a Master Gardener class for fall 2013. While details are still limited, if you are interested in the training series feel free to call or email for additional information or to apply.

Roy Ballard is ANR Educator with the Hancock County office of Purdue Extension. Contact him at 462-1113 or rballard@purdue.edu.


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